I don’t usually write on issues of race and for good reason: it tends to garner heated debate, polarized perspectives and people talking past one another. In “post-racial” America, its tough to talk about issues of oppression and injustice because of all the progress Blacks have made in this country. After all, slavery ended 150 years ago, Jim Crow is over, the “Whites Only” signs have been removed, schools are integrated, and Blacks have risen to prominent stations in society.
Everything seems to be ok until something happens…like Ferguson and now Eric Garner. Then issues of race rise to the surface. Then something happens, I’ve noticed, something subtle yet prominent. There is still an undercurrent of inequality and trickles of suppression in drips of dispositions towards these kinds of incidences.
The premise of racism in America has been built on perception and belief that the Negro was inferior to Whites. It was ok to ship men, women and children like cattle and sell them off like property. For a country that was founded on the premise that all men were created equal, that equality came with a qualification for Blacks as the sub-dominant group. Sure there were free Blacks, but freedom was only free as long as it was granted.
As the dominant group, Whites also wrote the narrative for parameters and progress. Whatever Blacks had, they were allowed to have with the expectation of gratitude towards the giver, especially acute in places of slavery. There was also an firm expectation of compliance.
Go along to get along. Know your place. Lower your eyes. Don’t make waves. The negro dare not rebel or face the consequences.
As a race, Blacks were deemed by many to be inferior to Whites, not capable of carry out the same citizenry nor deserving of the same rights. Sadly, this was even justified by well-meaning Christians who used mis-applications of Scripture to justify inequality. Accomplishments and talent tended to be overlooked and only recognized if it was written into the narrative. Slavery ended, but the narrative continued.
Sure there has been progress along the way. Absolutely, the post-Civil rights era has seen significant accomplishments and opportunities. I mean, we even have a Black president! But sadly, the undercurrent of the narrative continues. It’s not overt. It is subtle. It comes out in the way issues of race are addressed. When events like Ferguson happen and Blacks cry fowl because of trends of disparate treatment, you can hear the song of the narrative lilting through streams of innocent comments, kind of like these;
“Of course, its not racial”
“Of course the police officer was justified in subduing an animal” (note description of calling Brown “it” and “like a demon”.
“Why are you upset? Look at the facts!”
The other day, I came across a comment that framed it aftermath as “Blacks not getting their way and getting upset about it.” Yes, that’s it. We are not getting our way and just crying over nothing and need to be quiet.
Go along to get along. Know your place. Don’t make waves.
Regardless of what went down that day and Brown’s culpability in the matter, there is something telling in the disparity of experiences between police action towards Whites vs. Blacks. You can deny privilege exists all you want, but try telling that to the myriad of black men who have been stopped without reason, followed more closely and deemed to be more criminal. And there’s also telling about the disparities in perspectives about situations like these. Perceptions are powerful persuaders of reality and unfortunately continue to write the narrative.
And this is what makes situations like this so discouraging and disheartening. When anger at injustices flare, the discomfort begins to control the narrative and tell people, Black people, their concerns are unfounded and subtle tones of “get over it” are heard. This is usually accompanied by a recitation of facts, figures and cerebral discussions about how these things are really not worthy of all the fuss if people would just examine statistics as if people with whom these actions resonate can just handle these instances with clinical objectivity. And yet, that is the expectation.
Sadly when this comes from Christians its even worse. As Thabiti Anyabwile reminds us in this post, Spotting Gospel Escapism in Evangelical Circles, often this dismissiveness is couched in a spiritual dress that typically ends up vilifying the one raising concerns as being non-gospel oriented, divisive and just not getting with the Christian program.
Just go along to get along. Know your place. Lower your eyes. Don’t make waves. And it is subtle, very subtle.